MIAMI (CBS4) – Seven people were arrested Tuesday and three others are being south after officials said they were part of a massive drug smuggling operation at the Port of Miami.
Details of the investigation were released Wednesday in a press conference. Director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), John Morton, explained that border security task forces are cracking down on drug smugglers.
“Let it be known that we are intent on investigating and prosecuting criminals who exploit our ports,” he said.
On Tuesday, federal authorities raided homes from Miami to Pembroke Pines and arrested the seven individuals.
Arrested were longshoremen Albert W. Hines, 30, of Pembroke Pines; Michael Canada, 30, of Miramar; Alexander Terrell Pratt, 33, of Miami; Santonio Riou, 33, of Miami; Jessie Lamons, 58, of Miami; and Morris Henderson, 32, of Miami, who is currently in federal custody on ecstasy trafficking and weapons charges.
They were charged with conspiracy to import cocaine, heroin, and marijuana and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, heroin, and marijuana.
Francisco Gonzalez, 52, of Coral Springs; Devin Jackson, 42, residing in Costa Rica; Climaco Asprilla, 37, residing in Panama; and Mickey Honeyghan, 39, of Jamaica are also charged in the 20-count indictment.
Longshoreman Vondre Asbury, 24, of Miami, was also previously arrested in February 2009, and is currently in federal prison on cocaine trafficking and importation charges.
The investigation, dubbed “Operation Gangplank,” started in July 2007 after ICE HSI agents and task force officers from the Miami-Dade Police Department, DEA agents and CBP officers at the Miami Seaport uncovered that longshoremen were actively involved in an international conspiracy that involved the importation of multiple kilograms and millions of dollars worth of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana through the Port of Miami and Port Everglades.
Further investigation revealed six members of the International Longshoremen’s Association were taking cash payoffs to smuggle shipments of drugs into South Florida. The operation was an enforcement effort made by the Miami Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST).
“The contraband was concealed on arriving ships, primarily in the shipping containers or secreted in the ships themselves,” Morton said. “Once the ships docked the longshoreman would go on board the ships and smuggle the drugs off the ship on their bodies to provide them to street dealers.”
According to officials, the drugs came in on ships from Jamaica, Costa Rica and Panama.
While the smuggling may seem basic, walking the drugs on shore was very lucrative. Authorities estimate they brought in $6 million worth of narcotics. When authorities realized the scope of the operation they formed a massive multi-agency sting.
During a span of three years the operation netted 140 arrests, 11,000 pounds of cocaine, 8,000 pounds of marijuana, 3,000 ecstasy pills and $170,000. The operation also netted 19 vehicles, 16 weapons and more than 1,400 rounds of ammunition, authorities said.
“Make no mistake about it, this isn’t about a mom and pop misconduct,” Morton said. “This is organized crime on the grand scale.”
Morton said officials are working hard to stop those exploiting seaports.
“Those who seek to exploit our seaports, airports or border crossings should be on notice,” he said. “We’re watching, and we’ll catch you. And when we do, be prepared to spend a long time behind bars.”
The local Miami BEST has three teams covering the Miami Seaport, Miami River, Port Everglades Seaport and all maritime smuggling activities in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
The longshoreman are expected to be in federal court on Friday.